Maybe he’s your lab partner from freshman year, but you haven’t really spoken since then. Maybe she’s a friend of a friend, but you’re Facebook friends because you met at a party once last semester. Maybe you just cross paths on campus a lot.
Then that moment comes. On the way to your 10 a.m. seminar, you see them from afar. Shoot — you just made eye contact. What now? Do you say hi? Do you wave? Do you stop and have a full-blown conversation?
These run-ins happen every day. The College of William and Mary can make it awkward.
Take a walk across campus. How many people do you smile and nod to? How many people, who aren’t necessarily your friends, do you recognize? How many people do you know some little random fact about, but not much else?
If you are like the majority of students at the College, you probably know a ton of them. These, my friends, are your “casual acquaintances.”
A wise friend once told me, “Anyone with a Facebook is a stalker, and you can’t deny it.” The advent of social media provides us all with a window into the lives of others. We meet, we chat and we learn a little bit about each other. Then, we become Facebook friends and we learn a little more. Then we see each other, and we hide it.
But how awkward can it get? To find out, I embarked on a little experiment. For an entire school week, I attempted to have nothing but positive casual-acquaintance run-ins. For me, this meant smiling and waving, or stopping to have a small conversation.
Full disclosure: I’m the kind of extrovert who knows the life story of the grocer at Food Lion, so I really wasn’t too concerned about the success of my experiment. While I had many gratifying successes, overall, it was a week of lots of smiling at people, then pretending to wave to someone else when they didn’t reciprocate.
Maybe the problem is that we are too self-aware here at the College. We assume everyone is focused too intently on something in his or her own mind or too engrossed in a conversation to stop and smile. Or maybe we are just all victims of this casual-acquaintance avoidance culture that perpetuates itself and makes our campus more awkward with each passing day.
Or maybe we just prefer to avoid people we only sort of know. Whatever the issue may be, it seems that people are okay with avoiding each other — in fact, casual acquaintances tend to prefer it.
No one wants to stop and chat all the time; that’s unrealistic. But just think of the difference we could make if we stopped texting for a second, picked our heads up and smiled at each other.
This past summer, I ran into a vaguely familiar classmate from the religious studies department on the D.C. Metro. On campus she’d be a casual acquaintance, but for the ride from Farragut West to Capitol South, she was my best friend. In life outside of Williamsburg, any connection to the Tribe becomes one worth savoring. So why not start appreciating it now?
Ariel Cohen is a Confusion Corner columnist and an expert on disguising unreciprocated waves.